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The evolution of the events industry in Dubai

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Dubai has many strings to its bow. As a city synonymous with big visions and futuristic ideas, its growth has been swift, while its reputation as a safe and stable international destination for financial services, logistics, and trade has been 30 years in the making.

This journey, from low-key fishing town to pioneer in the fields of healthcare, education, transport, technology, clean energy, water, and space, has enabled the city to develop and showcase knowledge and expertise from across the Middle East region.

In turn, this has attracted some of the world’s biggest events and industry experts, many of whom now look to events in Dubai for a source of inspiration, innovation, and networking.

In 2015, Dubai attracted 14.2 million overnight visitors, one in five of which came for business. During their stay many of these business visitors attended large-scale events like the Congress of the International Society of Blood Transfusion and the Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition, which are both scheduled to take place again later this year.

The close relationship that the city’s official events bureau – Dubai Business Events – has built with industry associations such as the International Congress and Convention Association and the Professional Convention Management Association has helped to simplify the processes involved with holding a major event in Dubai. Aided by this direct channel to the events industry, Dubai Business Events is able to provide impartial advice to business event organisers through its global network of offices with a permanent presence in New York, London, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Seoul Shanghai, and of course Dubai.

This reach will be important in the years leading up to Dubai World Expo 2020, as the organisation continues to align itself with federal government plans to grow the number of annual leisure and business visitors to Dubai to 20 million by the start of the next decade.

At the same time, the government is investing in the city’s physical and ‘grey matter’ infrastructure that will be required to accommodate this growth. The expansion of Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), which has been the cornerstone of the emirate’s international meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions industry since 1979, is one example of the investment in this area.

The expansion will increase capacity to 1.31 million square feet, and will enable DWTC to continue generating valuable revenue for the Dubai economy. In 2015, the Centre hosted 104 large-scale exhibitions, trade events, conventions, and conferences, which contributed more than US$3.3 billion in retained value to local GDP. This is equivalent to 3.1 per cent of the emirate’s GDP, with an immediate effect on employment within the labour market seen in the sustaining of over 80,400 jobs. Looking ahead, industry conferences scheduled at DWTC between 2015 and 2018 are expected to add a further US$72 million to the local economy.

In anticipation of the need to balance revenue and rising footfall with national and international environmental commitments, Dubai Municipality has also unveiled several new projects as part of plans to make the emirate a green and fully sustainable city by 2021.

One of these projects is a flower-shaped eco-city to be built in the Dubai desert. Bringing to life a sustainable approach to urbanisation, Desert Rose City will feature schools, shopping malls, clinics and hospitals, as well as a range of housing options, all running on renewable energy. With the first phase spread across 14,000 hectares and expected to welcome 160,000 inhabitants, this is the latest of Dubai’s Smart City initiatives – and a significant contribution to the development of a low-carbon economy in the region.

Featuring state-of-the-art technologies and techniques for the preservation of the environment and natural resources, Desert Rose City is planned to be completely sustainable and provide about 200 megawatts of electricity using photovoltaic roofs on homes and other premises. First and foremost, the solar panels covering a surface area of 65,000 hectares will set new benchmarks in generating clean electricity and renewable energy – a focus that is consistent with all of the development priorities in the United Arab Emirates, across transport, education, health, technology, water and space sectors.

These priorities are outlined in Dubai’s Tourism Vision for 2020, the UAE Vision 2021, as well as several other strategic documents, and these are guiding the development of new industry-focused knowledge clusters located across the city. Each of these clusters has emerged in response to regional challenges and market trends, and has benefitted from local and global expertise, including longstanding hubs at Dubai International Financial Centre and Dubai Healthcare City.

Established in 2002, Dubai Healthcare City served 1.2 million patients in 2014, of which 15 per cent where medical tourists. Since then, the cluster has played a significant role in the development and launch of the world’s first comprehensive electronic medical tourism portal – Dubai Health Experience – which aims to provide all health, travel, hospitality, and visa services at the click of a button.

Like other national priorities, the government hopes to use this initiative to attract over 500,000 international medical tourists by 2020. Meanwhile, the initiative’s continued evolution will also benefit from exchanges that take place each year at major international events such as Arab Health, which has become one of the region’s biggest healthcare shows.

Earlier this year, Arab Health brought together 4,000 companies exhibiting industry innovations that ranged from the world’s largest wellness village at Dubai Healthcare City to the introduction of new 3D technology that is sought to revolutionise the industry.

Dubai Biotechnology and Research Park is another example of a knowledge cluster that is thriving at the apex between industry, education, and events. Having joined forces with Dubai Business Events in 2014, the Park is comprised of 70 bio-technology, pharmaceutical and laboratory equipment companies and testing laboratories, including Pfizer, Amgen, Merck Serono, and Genzyme.

In time, this partnership will work to strengthen Dubai’s position in the field of life science conferences. Further support across all verticals is expected to come from the growing number of universities and research centres located in Dubai, reflecting the emirate’s commitment to pave the way for technological and scientific advancement.

As it does so, there is an expectation that future events will contribute to the city’s legacy as a hub for leisure and business events, while also making a significant contribution to the economy, long-term job creation, and the emergence of a global knowledge hub.

In return, event organisers large and small will have access to a dynamic market and attractive hardware that promises global connectivity, state-of-the-art facilities, first-class infrastructure, and great hospitality.